Nigel Doughty's seat at Forest - photo by Richard Crouch
As a lifelong Forest fan, this is hard to write. Today, February 4, 2012, Nigel Doughty passed away. He was 54.
To say he had ups and downs at this club would be an understatement. When he took over the club in 1999, he did it through a sense of duty, initially coming in as an investor when we were in peril. He eventually had little choice but to take over the club lock, stock and barrel. He saw it was the right thing to do.
A very successful businessman and a family man, he hoped to add ‘successful football owner and chairman’ to the CV. Some would say he failed in that, but those people would not be looking at the bigger picture. They would not realise how close this club of ours came to folding, and what he did about it. For me, his time here was very successful.
He was a fiercely just and fair-minded man. At a time when football clubs the length of the country were taking an easy route into administration, he realised that the people who would fall foul of Forest taking that path would be the local businesses reliant on the club. He realised, quite rightly, that the club had obligations to pay what it owed, and whilst such a view was not popular amongst those who see only football, it was the right thing to do. It took some time, but eventually the club was put in a position where it only owed money to him, money he recently told us he didn’t want back and saw as a community investment. That sum is rumoured to be in the £100m region. To put it into perspective, that’s more than most of us would earn in fifty lifetimes.
He was a good man. He had money, of course, but never flaunted it. You never saw him smugly driving past freezing cold fans in a Bentley. Instead, you’d see him hopping off the train on a Saturday afternoon and taking the stroll with the fans to the ground. Hardly an inconspicuous figure, he could be spotted from some distance, and regularly chatted with whichever other fans happened to be on the same train or walking the same path. He wasn’t an elitist; he was one of us. His charity work went somewhat unnoticed, presumably by design, as he donated millions to children’s charities NSPCC and Childline, which he felt passionately about, along with funding hospitals and making political donations – and without requesting a knighthood.
Ed Miliband commented today that Nigel had a desire to make the world a better place, and I have to agree with him. He understood that those with wealth have a responsibility in the world, and while he may have indulged his passion at Forest, he did so with the firm belief that he was investing in Nottingham, and in the people of Nottingham. He took his responsibility seriously and has changed thousands of lives through generously giving both his time and money to those who needed it.
Like many, I had the great pleasure of meeting and conversing with him numerous times – indeed, before some people thought it a good idea to send him abusive emails, he would always reply if you sent him a mail about Forest. He was a genuine fan who loved to talk about the club. If anyone ever thought he was anything but a committed Forest fan then they had never engaged him in conversation. He was passionate, he cared, and he had time for people. He was a man with great humour and humility.Recently, he has come in for some criticism from certain quarters, and while he was big enough to realise that those people don’t represent the majority of supporters at Nottingham Forest, it gives me a great sadness to think that he died thinking people weren’t grateful for everything he did at the club. Not only was he indulging his hobby in Nottingham Forest, he was funding ours. We didn’t pay for the sublime years we’ve had recently; he did.
Forest shirt - illustration by Adam Poole
The last time I spoke to Nigel face to face was at the Players’ Awards last season. He spent the evening going from group to group of supporters, listening to their grumbles and their praise, and in many cases agreeing. He was as disappointed as anyone that we weren’t going up automatically, but was optimistic ahead of our playoff with Swansea. He didn’t talk with us as Owner, or Chairman; he simply talked as a fan, even at one point joining in with some gentle ribbing of Mark Arthur!
Despite all the business of, and focus upon, the Forest first team, his greatest achievement here is the academy: a multi-million pound resource providing not only fantastic training facilities but also a wonderful framework for combining football and academic pursuits.
In the summer he proudly tweeted of his young son’s successes at his A-levels while playing for QPR, proclaiming, quite rightly, that education and football can work together. I believe this was his vision. He saw how many young footballers with no education fell by the wayside over the years and felt that it was wrong for a football club not to equip them for life outside of football. It would be a fitting tribute – and something the club needs to do – to name the academy in his honour. The success of the academy is down to his drive to ensure that the kids at the club get the most out of their lives, whether it be in football or elsewhere, and in a time when football and footballers seem to be in a bubble insulated from the realities that face us all, Nigel Doughty, someone who just liked to do the right thing, was a fantastic breath of fresh air.
L-R: Nigel Doughty, the author, Paul Elmore, Andrew Harrison and Mark Arthur,
Annual Players Awards at the City Ground
Today is a sad day. As the snow falls, and Radio Nottingham plays some fitting songs, the sadness of it all is becoming clear. At 54, Nigel leaves his children fatherless and his wife a widow. 54 is too young to be doing that; my heart goes out to his young family in this time of sorrow.
It’s a day to look beyond football and mourn a man who has given so much to this city, this country, and some fantastically worthy charities, and he did it all without desire for praise or ceremony. He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do, which is how he seemed to live. He recently talked about Financial Fair Play being the right thing to do, and he’s right: it is the right thing to do. Far too often the right thing to do is overlooked, especially by those insulated by wealth from consequence. He wasn’t that kind of man. He was a man with a conscience who – and Ed Miliband was right about this – did make the world a better place. For us all. It will be a sadder place without him. If we wish to honour him, we should all make an effort to do the right thing, and try to make the world a better place. In this time of sadness, I wish his family the strength they will need.
Requiescat in pace, Nigel, and thanks.